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SEGA treated us to an unlikely cult classic when Valkyria Chronicles hit the shelves all those years ago. A decade later, I’m playing what feels like a planned content expansion that got discovered just now after mysteriously vanishing in the archives. Is that bad? Let’s find out.
Still at War
The game takes in 1935 and follows Ranger Squad E of the anime West-European Allies (Federation) as they launch anime Operation Barbarossa (Northern Cross) against the anime Nazi-Soviets (Empire) to take out their capital of anime Leningrad (Schwartzgrad) and end the second anime World War (EW2). When the offensive predictably fails, our protagonists take an alternative route through the anime Baltic Sea (Crystal Sea) and learn about the true purpose of their mission. Feel at home yet?
Unlike the original which presented an idealized version of war however, Valkyria Chronicles 4 attempts to explore the morally grey in an overall darker setting, and it may have been better to just skip it altogether as I’ve alluded to in my previous review.
To give you an example, the existence of child valkyrie is depicted as an unforgivable crime against humanity which causes some squad members to consider desertion. Dropping a nuclear bomb on the enemy capital however and wiping out millions of civilians is simply seen as an inconvenient part of duty. As a result, Claude and the other protagonists come across as hypocrites with an inconsistent moral compass and dubious motivations. They also curse now, but it really doesn’t add much.
The pacing during the opening hours is quite strong. The scale is grand, the frontlines change rapidly, there’s a solid variety in missions and we get enough time to familiarize ourselves with the protagonists. The second half of the game is, unfortunately, simply disappointing. After the failed offensive on the mainland, you get on an icebreaker to take an alternative route to the enemy capital over the frozen sea.
And it just drags on, and on, and on. We’re talking chapter after chapter set in the same boring scenery fighting the same baddies in missions which do nothing to advance the plot, and there’s only so much anime teen melodrama you can take before it gets on your nerves.
The ending is okay at best, and nowhere near as satisfying as the original. We get two separate occasions of Deus ex machina leading absolutely nowhere, and I can’t tell if the characters got any closure because their motivations were dubious to begin with. I don’t know if the writing ran out of time or ink first, but I hope we get to see a sequel that lives up to the true potential of this story.
The frequent references to the original are welcome at first, but Gallia takes up way too much screen time considering we’re supposed to play as one of the two powerhouses in the war. Apart from hinting at the existence of anime USA and England (United States of Vinland and Edinburgh respectively), the world at large remains unexplored.
There is one thing that VC4 definitely improves on though: Your squadmates actually show up during cutscenes, and if you use them enough you can unlock Squad Stories which replace the Ellet Reports. It also handles story deaths way better than whatever happened with poor Isara in the first game.
You still hope RNGsus answers your prayer when firing. You still mash R and Start during every turn. You still question the hitbox when lurking around a corner. It’s still clunky, and still satisfies a very specific turn based strategy itch.
The mission objectives are slightly more gimmicky than I’d like them to be, but it does help improve the variety. The maps also got bigger, but that’s immediately rendered irrelevant by the poor ranking system which saw no change. I probably used less than a third of the playable area during missions. Just to reiterate: If speed is the only thing that is rewarded, players will seek the shortest route through the level.
To help you with that, VC4 allows leader units to “team up” with up to two other squadmates, causing them to follow you around until you run out of AP. In essence, you can turn any leader into an APC without the armor and you can probably guess what means.
Other than that, the game certainly felt more difficult thanks to balance tweaks, a nerf to scouts and piss poor starting equipment, resulting in some tense moments during the campaign. That said, boss battles were neither intuitive nor fun – they’re HP sponges you have to take down in a very specific fashion, or you lose. That said, orders are still broken and you can still cheese the ever loving crap out of missions if you so desire.
The game introduces the grenadier class, which are essentially mortars. They’re a fun addition and make indirect fire feel a bit more tangible. You also get 3 types of vehicles to use, and losing the command tank no longer results in a game over. It’s a shame the fencers from the PSP entry didn’t make it, but I’ll take it. We also get access to ship commands later in the game and characters can now do a last stand attack if they fall, but I found neither of them very useful.
The post-game is okay. First you’ll have to find the extra cutscenes by flipping through all the pages and hoping you notice an additional pic- can we please stop with this awful UI? It sucks. Anyways, you can then replay the final mission on hard difficulty which unlocks the second part of the epilogue.
You can resurrect fallen squadmates via the Epitaph and tackle post-game skirmishes or replay story missions to earn renown, which you can spend on weapons or leveling your classes beyond the level cap. It’s definitely content, but I didn’t really feel like playing on after finishing the campaign.
As for DLC, we got a fun reunion with Squad 7, missions focusing on some less prominent squadmates, a beach episode, an Edy themed skirmish, VC4’s Valkyria duking it out with Selvaria, expert level skirmishes and tank stickers. I recommend them in that order.
The art style once again carries the serviceable quality of assets, but as I’ve alluded to in the gameplay section, there’s only so much you can do before snow gets boring.
Unlike the first game, uniforms and tank designs are based off of WW2 equipment. You’ll see Shermans, T34s and Ranger uniforms which help to differentiate the Federation troops from the rest and spice up the battlefield. I dig it.
A lot of music tracks are reused, which I don’t really mind as they were more than servicable in the first game and fit this game just fine. The voice work remains good, and you still have the option to play it in Japanese.
The game runs at a somewhat stable 30 frames for the most part, but certain missions are simply unenjoyable due to what I assume are poorly optimized particle effects. You’ll also want to play on the big screen whenever possible as you just simply lack overview when playing in handheld mode. Honestly, get this game on PS4 if you can, or wait until the PC version gets all the DLC.